Devil’s Express (1976)

New from Code Red DVD comes, “Devil’s Express,” an obscure 1970’s genre trifecta of blaxploitation, kung fu and monster movie!

The middle of winter can be a dry season for horror films, with the weeks before January 1st often devoted to the release of Oscar hopefuls and the big theatrical horror releases generally being held back until summer or fall. Diehard horror fans are forced to plumb the depths of Netflix and seek out the DVD releases of genre specialty labels like Scream Factory (http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory) and Code Red DVD (http://www.codereddvd.com/) for their winter horror movie fix.

But how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?

If your answer is “all the way,” then prepare to explore the dank and dirty bottom with Code Red’s recent release of “Devil’s Express.” You may want to check the bottoms of your shoes when you come back up for air.

Devil’s Express” (1976), also known as “Gang Wars,” is a horror film so obscure that it likely only saw the projector light of a few seedy grindhouse theaters in the red-light district of a couple of inner cities on the East Coast, and even then it was likely shown as the second half of a grade Z double feature. It has probably only been seen by a handful of zombie and/or kung fu cinema obsessives, and there are good reasons for its nearly forgotten status, but for cult movie fans there are also several points of genuine interest.

First of all, it may be the only movie ever made to mix 70’s blaxploitation, martial arts and zombies into one exploitive witches’ brew. Secondly, the film’s kung fu hero is played by a man named Warhawk Tanzania.

I think Warhawk Tanzania is probably the coolest name in kung fu movie history, and this bad mutha lives up to his name with a massive Afro and 70’s mustache riding above his square jaw and imposing frame. He also gives his enemies a wide-eyed stare so intense that he likely won a lot of fights without ever throwing a punch. Which is probably a good thing because when the fighting starts in “Devil’s Express,” he doesn’t come across like he took very many karate classes at the YMCA.

In the movie’s prologue, we witness an order of ancient monks bury a large wooden coffin in a deep, dark hole with a magical medallion placed on top of the box.

The movie then shifts to the modern 1970’s at Warhawk’s dojo with our hero teaching a few moves to a police detective who apparently has been trying to recruit Warhawk into the police force for months, but Warhawk isn’t interested in working for the man. After he tells this pig where he can stuff his badge, Warhawk and his number one student pack their bags for Hong Kong for a two week training mission. The first week they spend training with the masters of the martial arts and the second week Warhawk intends to spend meditating.

Warhawk’s student grows bored with watching his master sit staring into space and wanders off looking for adventure. He stumbles into the hole with the creepy coffin and claims the medallion as a souvenir. This, of course, allows the evil demon-zombie inside to escape and continue its quest for blood.

The demon possesses a Chinese business man at the docks and slips onto the ship to follow Warhawk and his student back to New York. The poor possessed guy looks like he’s wearing ping pong balls over his eyelids, an effect which is strangely disturbing. Blinded by the bright lights of the big city, it retreats to the subway tunnels and begins killing gang members and anyone else who enters the tunnels.

Meanwhile, we get to enjoy a montage of Warhawk living happily, giving his neighbors high fives, making passionate love to his woman and being a general badass. But the monster’s carnage causes an already tense relationship between the black kung fu gangs and the Chinese kung fu gangs to erupt into all out kung fu gang war and Warhawk’s student becomes a victim of the escalation. So Warhawk decides to put the beat down on the Chinese kung fu gang and their master to get to the bottom of these mutilation murders.

It’s at this juncture, around the midway point, that the film loses all its momentum when the plot decides to suddenly follow the police detective introduced earlier in the film as he proceeds with his own investigation of the murders. This police procedural goes on for nearly an interminable 30 minutes during which Warhawk is completely off screen and the movie grinds to an unwatchable halt.

It’s too bad, because in spite of the near complete filmmaking ineptitude canvasing everything from acting to fight choreography to post dubbing, “Devil’s Express” delivers an earnest, so-bad-it’s-good entertaining vibe up to that point. It also rewards the extremely patient with a somewhat rousing finale as Warhawk goes mano-a-mano in a kung fu knock-down-drag-out with the zombie in the subway tunnels. The demon-zombie, when we finally get to see him in his full glory during the final kung fu duel, doesn’t disappoint. The rubber suit and lumpy skeleton mask are so grungy and cheap that they actually go 180 degrees around to being kind of creepy looking.

I don’t want deliver a Warhawk style roundhouse kick to the overall merits of “Devil’s Express.” For a little grindhouse movie that almost nobody has ever seen or heard of, it delivers a bit of gore, a few chuckles and a couple of fun kung fu fights. Apparently, man-god Warhawk Tanzania appeared in only one other film, 1975’s “Black Force,” which I will now likely have to seek out.

Check Code Red DVD (http://www.codereddvd.com/) for other low budget and no budget forgotten exploitation films like “Just Before Dawn,” “Trick or Treats” and “Evilspeak.”

The Phantom of The Ville

Write a Review

reviews

Comments are closed.

  • www.louisvillehalloweenfest.com